Is Alcoholism a Disease? Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder

The most important goal of treatment obviously is to help the patient live without alcohol or other drugs. This also means, however, that an influence that played a central role in the patient’s life—even if the consequences generally were detrimental— is taken away from him or her, which may lead to a feeling of deprivation. Particularly for patients who do not (yet) suffer the most severe consequences of AOD use and are not ready to change their behavior, such an approach may have little appeal and will not be able to engage the patient’s motivation and participation. Therefore, it is important that treatment participation offers additional benefits to the patient. These could be monetary incentives; support with housing, employment, or AOD-free social activities that are contingent on abstinence; or the feeling of belonging to a supportive community, such as AA.

  • Further, people who have emotional difficulties were saying the effects are sick and suffering from calling it a disease.
  • This website may convey general information related to medical conditions, their research, testing, and treatment, and other health care topics.
  • However, it is especially those patients who do not complete inpatient therapy or IOP who might benefit most from the lower-intensity continuing-care approaches.

Health care professionals use criteria from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), to assess whether a person has AUD and to determine the severity, if the disorder is present. Severity is based on the number of criteria a person meets based on their symptoms—mild (2–3 criteria), moderate (4–5 criteria), or severe (6 or more criteria). Because of the inherent dangers of late-stage alcoholism, the ability to identify it is critical to any possible recovery.

Anxiety Disorder

Mental health illnesses like anxiety, sadness, and personality disorders frequently coexist with alcohol use disorders. These comorbid conditions can make the disease more difficult to treat and add to its chronic nature. Additionally, major social and vocational disabilities, strained relationships, and legal problems can result from alcoholism, further contributing to its chronic nature. (For examples of AAFs and information on the calculation of the 95 percent confidence intervals for chronic diseases and conditions see Gmel and colleagues [2011]).

  • Hosted by Amy Morin, LCSW, this episode of The Verywell Mind Podcast shares strategies for coping with alcohol cravings and other addictions, featuring addiction specialist John Umhau, MD.
  • The RR formulas were developed for risks and were adjusted only for age (see Flegal et al. 2006; Korn and Graubard 1999; Rockhill and Newman 1998), although many other socio-demographic factors are linked with both alcohol consumption and alcohol-related harms (see figure 1).
  • It typically starts with social drinking and then worsens as the person starts to need alcohol in order to feel normal.

Group meetings are available in most communities at low or no cost, and at convenient times and locations—including an increasing presence online. This means they can be especially helpful to individuals at risk for relapse to drinking. Combined with medications and behavioral treatment provided by health care professionals, mutual-support groups can offer a valuable added layer of support. Therapy teaches alcoholics to control emotions, cope with stress, make healthy decisions and avoid relapse.

Is alcohol use disorder treatment different for pregnant women and mothers of newborns?

Prolonged use of the addictive substance alters brain chemistry, leading to physical, emotional, mental, and social dysfunction. If the addictive substance is discontinued, withdrawal symptoms typically occur. Today, alcoholism, alcohol abuse, and alcohol addiction are classified in the current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) as alcohol use disorder (AUD) or substance use disorder (SUD). The DSM-5 is published by the American Psychiatric Association as a reference manual for professional diagnosis of mental disorders, including alcohol and substance use disorders. The manual offers specific criteria to determine if the disorder is at a mild, moderate, or severe stage.

why is alcoholism considered a chronic disease

Since the late 1990s, the initial phase of treatment has increasingly been shifted from inpatient settings to day hospitals or intensive outpatient programs (IOPs) (McLellan and Meyers 2004), both to save costs and to make treatment less disruptive to the patient’s life. The basic treatment approach, however, in most cases still follows the Minnesota Model (i.e., is based on a 12-step approach). This phase then is followed by a continuing-care component that frequently is provided at the same facility and uses the same strategies as the initial intensive intervention, just at a lower frequency and intensity. The American Medical Association (AMA) first identified alcoholism as a disease in 1956. In 1980, the American Psychiatric Association identified substance use disorder as a primary mental health disorder and included alcoholism as a subset of personality disorders.

Why Alcohol Addiction Is Called a Chronic Disease

The initial intensive treatment phase typically lasts 30–60 days during which patients attend treatment sessions 2–3 times per week (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Office of Applied Studies 2008). After that, patients enter the continuing-care phase, which typically involves one 12-step– oriented group session per week. As alcohol use disorder progresses from mild to moderate to severe, the drinker experiences increasing distress whenever they are not drinking. Alcoholism has been recognized for many years by professional medical organizations as a primary, chronic, progressive, and sometimes fatal disease. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence offers a detailed and complete definition of alcoholism, but probably the most simple way to describe it is a mental obsession that causes a physical compulsion to drink. Binge drinking and heavy drinking can cause heart disease, including cardiomyopathy (disease of the heart muscle), as well as irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, and stroke.

  • States and communities can prevent binge drinking by supporting effective policies and programs, such as those recommended by the Community Preventive Services Task Force.
  • Statements made on this website have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.
  • NIAAA has established a research program on “Mechanisms of Behavioral Change” that is funding work in this important area.
  • One issue that needs to be investigated in this context is how continuing care programs can be designed so that remaining actively involved in treatment becomes a more appealing proposition to patients.

If people do not rigidly care the respective diets, they will get dire results. For example, if a person does not monitor for food intake, then there will be a chemical imbalance that might take to unmanageable health. Therefore, the theory explained that over eater is not normal but rather a person has a disease, is sick. The diabetic disease is something that the body’s failure to produce sufficient insulin. It is manner of the body’s metabolizing alcohol which may be the disease, leading to the need for dietary control, the substance abuse, and abstinence.

Characteristics of Chronic Disease

The problem is that alcoholism is a progressive disease where tolerance levels increase over time, thus leading to more severe symptoms such as physical dependence and alcoholism-related illnesses. Additionally, alcoholism has a protracted course that frequently includes phases of remission and relapse. Due to alcohol’s lingering effects on the brain and addiction’s stronghold, those who become sober nevertheless face a high risk of relapsing. This chronicity emphasizes the need for continuing care, monitoring, and assistance to help people effectively manage their condition. Finally, all of the studies focused on patients who had completed the initial stage of treatment before entering continuing care.

We see people with the disease make decisions that negatively impact their careers, relationships and health. People addicted to alcohol say that they want to stop drinking but are unable to. A medication for alcoholism, such as disulfiram or acamprosate, may aid alcohol recovery.

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